The last time the Treynor softball team reached the state tournament — 2013 — Kara Huisman was an assistant coach in charge of the pitchers.
After winning the 2-A state crown in 2012, the Cardinals became the first southwest Iowa school to reach back-to-back title games, falling to Durant 3-0 in the finale.
Huisman savored the experience. She took over the program in 2014 and, when she started coaching her daughter, Sydni, in 2015, she ached to get back.
The Cardinals endured some near-misses, but in their sixth try they are back in Fort Dodge.
Seventh-rated Treynor (30-3) will meet No. 4 West Liberty (28-5) on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in a Class 3-A state quarterfinal at the Rogers Sports Complex.
“I’m most excited for them to experience the atmosphere of state softball,’’ Kara Huisman said. “Every state venue has a special feel to it, and softball has its own feel. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the dugout during it, and I’ve been lucky enough to see teams be very successful at it, so I’m excited for them to have their shot.’’
The sixth-seeded Cardinals have one of the most experienced teams in the 3-A field. They’ll likely start five seniors on Tuesday: Huisman, Konnor Sudmann, Reagan Darrah, Kayla Chapman and Jessica Vohs.
Huisman leads the state in strikeouts regardless of class with 361 in 203 innings. She has allowed eight earned runs for an eye-catching 0.28 ERA, which ranks third among the state’s pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings.
In the third grade, Huisman started going into the basement for pitching sessions with her parents. Her father, Justin, is an assistant on the team.
“There was obviously times where I was like, ‘Do I really have to?’’’ Sydni Huisman said. “But I started to love it, obviously. It became my favorite sport.’’
Sudmann and Chapman, who joined Huisman in leading the Cardinals to the 2-A basketball crown in March, are newcomers to the softball team. Sudmann hadn’t played since the seventh grade, while Chapman had one year of high school experience as a graduated eighth-grader.
Sudmann leads the team in batting average (.465) and ranks second in the 3-A field in stolen bases (40), while Chapman plays a solid center field.
“Whenever you have this many talented girls that are used to winning, it never hurts,’’ Kara Huisman said.
Tori Castle also is used to winning. The starting third baseman has reached the state tournament in five sports in her junior year: volleyball, cross country, basketball, track and softball. She started on the basketball team, finished ninth in the 2-A state cross country meet and placed sixth in the 3,000 at the 2-A state track meet.
Sophomore Stella Umphreys leads the team in RBIs (34) and slugging percentage (.580) and shares the lead with Darrah in doubles (nine). Sophomore Alyssa Kellar (.353, 22 SB) and junior Bella Dingus (.340, 22 RBIs) rank fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in batting average.
Third-seeded West Liberty is making its state debut, but it has some impressive talent.
Senior pitcher Isabelle True (16-1, 1.06 ERA), a Kirkwood signee, was the captain of the 2-A all-tournament team while leading Louisa-Muscatine to the state title last year before transferring. Drake signee Haylee Lehman, a junior shortstop, is batting .606 with 27 stolen bases. Senior centerfielder Macy Akers (.402, 25 RBIs) will play at Northern Iowa.
Hoping for a breakthrough season, Kara Huisman said she did some advance planning when she took her daughter for senior pictures several months ago.
“This was a void,’’ she said. “We took a senior picture with the trophies that she had. Then we took one with a gap so she could Photoshop it in. Now we get to Photoshop it in.’’
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Denison-Schleswig breaks through in 4-A
Among the 40 softball teams qualifying for the state tournament, it’s hard to imagine one with a more dramatic turnaround than the Denison-Schleswig girls.
On June 16, the Monarchs had lost eight of nine to drop to 11-9. The last game in that losing streak was an 11-1 setback to Sergeant Bluff-Luton in which pitcher Sarah Heilesen recorded just one out while surrendering five earned runs before being pulled.
Denison faced Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the second round of regionals, and Heilesen and her team completed a remarkable turnaround. She pitched the distance in a 6-3 upset victory.
Coach Kevin Dau’s team (26-13) has won 13 of 15 and will make its second state appearance on Tuesday at 1 p.m. against top-rated, top-seeded Carlisle (35-3) in a Class 4-A quarterfinal at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.
Denison had lost regional finals in each of the past two seasons.
“We had that one bad stretch, but I think we’re past that, and we’ve played pretty good softball the past month or so,’’ Dau told the Denison Bulletin and Review.
Heilesen leads Denison at the plate with a .434 average, seven homers, 33 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. Classmate Alex Mohr bats .381 with 29 RBIs and 33 stolen bases.
Carlisle, a 17-time qualifier and four-time champion, is led by Northern Iowa signee Alyvia DuBois (.505, 43 RBIs) and Meredith Hoffman (.417, nine homers, 50 RBIs) at the plate, and Molly Hoekstra (30-1, 1.48 ERA) in the circle.